Crime scene evidence lacks scientific certainty
By Robert Cloud
Testimony ended Wednesday afternoon in Chad Magolski’s homicide trial.
Closing arguments will be presented Thursday morning, then the jury will deliberate on whether or not to convict Magolski for the December 2007 murder of James Park.
A key element in the prosecution’s case against Magolski has been the DNA evidence.
Due to changes in the protocols used to interpret DNA evidence, the prosecution cannot say with scientific certainty that any of Magolski’s DNA was found at the scene.
For example, investigators found a bar of soap in Park’s bathroom sink and a bloody towel dropped into the toilet. They believe Park’s killer used the soap and towel to wash the blood off his hands after stabbing Park 11 times.
Analysts at the Wisconsin State Crime Lab found a mixture of DNA on the soap. Under the earlier protocols, they had determined that Park and Magolski were possible contributors to that DNA mixture. Under current protocols, the crime lab analysts still determined that Park was a possible contributor, but it cannot be determined if Magolski is a contributor.
Both the prosecution and the defense called DNA experts to the stand to testify regarding the change in protocols, or guidelines now used by crime labs.
James Andreas, with the State Crime lab, was responsible for interpreting the DNA evidence for Park’s murder investigation.
While on the stand, Andreas explained the difficulties associated with analyzing what experts call “touch DNA” – the DNA evidence that can be found on an object after somebody touches it.
When an individual touches an object, such as a light switch or a dollar bill, he may leave behind a flake of skin with trace amounts of DNA.
However, since many other individuals have touched the same object, what analysts find is usually a DNA mixture.
They may be able to determine a primary source of DNA such as Park being a primary contributor to the DNA found on the soap in his apartment – but investigators often can only determine if secondary DNA sources can be possibly included or excluded from the profile.
Andreas said analysts obtain usable results from touch DNA about 20 percent of the time.
Another piece of evidence introduced in the trial involved a $50 bill. The bill was among six $50 bills obtained from Darwin Alberts, the landlord of the apartments where both Magolski and Park lived. Prosecutors say that $50 bill was the one that Magolski placed in an envelope and used to pay his rent.
Analysts tested two faint, brownish-red stains on the upper corner of both sides of the bill. One side tested positive for blood but there was not enough DNA for analysis.
On the other side, crime lab analysts were unable to determine if the stain was blood, but they found a mixture of DNA and identified Park as a contributor.
When Troy Nielsen, Magolski’s defense attorney, cross-examined Andreas he focused on what investigators did not find in Park’s apartment.
Going through all the objects, one-by-one, that were swabbed for DNA – the knife used in the killing, door handles, light switches, the bathroom sink, pieces of furniture from Park’s apartment – Nielsen asked Andreas if Magolski’s DNA had been found. Out of dozens of DNA samples taken from the crime scene, not one could be linked to Magolski.
During the testimony of Special Agent James Holmes, one of the state investigators at the scene, it came to light that he had pulled a light-switch string in Park’s bathroom. He had removed his latex gloves because the state investigative team had concluded its work at the scene.
Andreas testified that both Park and Holmes were identified as sources of the DNA mixture found on the string when it was later sent by New London police to Madison.